2012 Major League Baseball season preview


BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow,com writer

Predictions are a great waste of time. They provide opportunities for petty arguments that will last from now until the end of time, now that the season is on our doorstep, it’s time to prophesize the 2012 winners and losers.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain is a big reason why Couch Side blogger Brandon J. Smith predicted the Giants to reach the World Series in 2012. Photo by: Art Siegel / Flickr

NL West

• Standings: 1. San Francisco Giants; 2. Arizona Diamondbacks; 3. Colorado Rockies; 4. Los Angeles Dodgers; 5. San Diego Padres

• Reasoning: The slightly biased Dbacks fan in me is fearful of a regression by the Snakes. After a modest overachieving season in 2011, whereas the Giants lost all semblance of offense in the stretch run, San Francisco is expecting a full season of superstar Buster Posey, along with the best starting staff west of the Mississippi. A normalized progression of events along with an improved Rockies bunch will make this west particularly wild.

NL Central

• Standings: 1. St. Louis Cardinals; 2. Cincinnati Reds; 3. Milwaukee Brewers; 4. Pittsburgh Pirates; 5.Chicago Cubs; 6. Houston Astros

• Reasoning: In all honesty, you can interchange the top three teams in the central, and you’d have a legit chance of making bank in Vegas. The Cardinals lost first baseman Albert Pujols, but they come into the season with a strong team, and ace Adam Wainwright as he returns from Tommy John surgery. The Reds had a busy offseason where they traded for the solid Padre Mat Latos, while signing closer Ryan Madson who is now out for the season. To sure up the back end of the pen, they acquired underrated lefty Sean Marshall, who will see plenty of end game action. And not to forget, they just resigned the premier first basemen in the NL in Joey Votto, who will be in Cincy for years to come. What’s wrong with the Brewers? Not much, I’m having a hard time pegging their success; they are returning the same roster minus Prince Fielder and adding Aramis Ramirez. Aside from that, the pitching staff is still very good, but for some reason, the Cardinals still feel like the team to beat in this division to me. Oh, and let’s not forget they are the reigning World Series champions.

NL East

• Standings: 1. Philadelphia Phillies; 2. Atlanta Braves; 3. Miami Marlins; 4. Washington Nationals; 5. New York Mets

• Reasoning: The Phillies, despite their offensive flaws, are still the team to beat in the East. A lack of Chase Utley (again) and Ryan Howard to start the year won’t be enough to prevent the trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels from dominating like usual. They could be 10 wins fewer than last year and still win 92 games, which I believe is going to happen, but they still have the elite pitching to keep them afloat. Atlanta is going to continue to compete for a wild card spot, which they have an extremely good chance of doing assuming sophomore first basemen Freddie Freeman improves, and a pitching staff littered with reliable talent like Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson stay the course. Their bullpen will still have the best 8th/9th inning combo in the NL with Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel lighting up radar guns. In regards to Washington and Miami, they will be competitive, and will make the race entertaining, but Washington is still a year or two away from being a serious power, and Miami is a dark horse playoff pick by some.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

New York Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson had a breakout season last year. With New York's addition of two new starting pitchers and one of the best lineups in baseball, which includes Granderson, Couch Side blogger likes the Yanks to reach the World Series in 2012. Photo by: Bridget Samuels / Flickr

AL West

• Standings: 1. Texas Rangers; 2. Los Angeles Angels; 3. Seattle Mariners; 4. Oakland Athletics

• Reasoning: It’s a sportswriters dream to have an appealing franchise acquire names like Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson; it leads to puff pieces building up their potential as a dynasty along the lines of the Yankee teams of old. However, in the reality of the AL West, it shouldn’t be assumed that the Angels will even win the division. An addition of the great Albert is never a negative, but the offense after him? Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter may not be enough to counter the sluggers in Arlington. Texas will continue to swing for the fences as a high rate at home with Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Nelson CruzAdrian Beltre and Mike Napoli, and the pitching staff will feature the exciting and talented Yu Darvish. Dare I say it will make for some compelling drama unlike in any other race, because it’s a two team division and everyone knows it.

AL Central

• Standings: 1. Detroit Tigers; 2. Cleveland Indians; 3. Kansas City Royals; 4. Chicago White Sox; 5. Minnesota Twins

• Reasoning: It’s far to say that Detroit is being overrated compared to the other juggernauts in the AL. Prince Fielder is a great hitter who will likely see a few home runs robbed by Comerica’s spacious gaps, but his prowess as a slugger will continue. The biggest problem I see with the Tigers is that their infield defense will affect ground balls rates by Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer. What was once an easy double play with Brandon Inge may turn into a nightmare as long as Miguel Cabrera continues to man the hot corner. One should expect the ERAs of the Tigers starters to go up a few points because of the sacrificed defense for increased offense. Despite this, they are still clearly the best team in the division, and will be a challenge for whoever faces them in the playoffs.

AL East

• Standings: 1. New York Yankees; 2. Toronto Blue Jays; 3. Tampa Bay Rays; 4. Boston Red Sox; 5. Baltimore Orioles

• Reasoning: This is the hardest division in baseball to predict, it’s not even close. There are four legitimate teams here who, if you put them in any other division besides the AL West, they would be the favorite to win. The Yankees again continue to have starting rotation issues now that the young Michael Pineda is on the DL, and they will once again rely on consummate horse CC Sabathia to carry to load, while the always oft-injured Phil Hughes and a recently out of retirement Andy Pettitte will be their backup plan. And not to forget they have a 38-year old, but still reliable Hiroki Kuroda on the staff. It may not be the best thing to be older and injured when you’re competition against Boston and Toronto’s offenses. Speaking of whom, the Blue Jays are in a great position to finally break through the rigors of fourth place and take a big step forward. They have a solid starting staff, an offense lead by the great Joey Bats, and an improved bullpen with Sergio Santos and Francisco Cordero. It’s possible they could overcome the great Rays pitching and Red Sox offense, while taking advantage of the Orioles to accomplish this. At the same time, it’s possible that the Rays will continue to have one of the best pitching staffs in the game, and an offense that finds a way to deliver in key moments, as illustrated by the now infamous game 163, when Dan Johnson and Evan Longoria helped lead the Rays to a last second playoff berth. What of Boston? The turmoil following game 163 saw both the manager and general manager leave the team, and their solution was former Mets manager Bobby Valentine? The occasionally controversial skipper is going to be keep things interesting in bean town, and on the field they already have injury concerns with new closer Andrew Bailey, and will be playing the likes of Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross every other day. It doesn’t take away from players like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Big Papi will accomplish, but my God, every series between these four powers are going to be spectacular.

POSTSEASON / AWARDS

• World Series winner: Giants over Yankees in 7 games.

• Reasoning: For some reason, I believe in that Giants staff to the bitter end, and why not have a series that brings back memories of what used to be in New York with the great trio of the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees fighting for the hearts and minds of New Yorkers?

• Cy Young winners: Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia

• MVP winners: Justin Upton and Albert Pujols

• Managers of the Year: Mike Matheny and Mike Scioscia

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